Content courtesy of Home Chef.
With most nurses working 12-hour shifts, finding time for self-care and exercise can be difficult. Nurses working the night shift may find this even more challenging, and likely even harder for those balancing a blend of day and night shifts.
While on the floor, nurses are moving, multitasking, and prioritizing our patients above all else. The idea of having a moment of self-reflection or time to meditate can sometimes feel like a far-fetched dream. And although we do a great deal of walking and lifting during our shifts, we’re often not spending time on other types of exercise that could further benefit us in the long run. Taking advantage of available fitness and wellness resources for nurses can help you stay healthy, no matter what shift you work.
- Fitness watch
These continue to increase in popularity with not only nurses, but anyone interested in improving overall health and wellness. Their features continue to improve and will likely continue to do so. Like most products, the brand, model, and price will vary depending on what you’re for. At the very least, most will track your steps, calories burned, and heart rate. For nurses changing schedules, those offering REM, deep, and core sleep tracking are extra helpful. Some even offer sleep coaching to help improve your sleep faster.
In terms of overall wellness, fitness watches that link to your phone can help you stay connected to family and friends. Reminders and notifications are also easily within reach, and you can have peace of mind when you leave your phone in the locker room.
- Self-care apps
Ranging from practicing mindfulness to organizing your current reading list, there’s a beneficial self-care app for you. Especially for nurses with limited time off during daylight hours, self-care apps that help with prioritizing your to-do list can help you make the most of any extra time you might have during your breaks to schedule appointments for yourself, check in with your family, etc.
Daily journaling and meditation apps grew in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic as stress levels increased. While nurses were significantly impacted by the many pandemic-related challenges, many stressors have yet to subside. Utilizing a resource for mental well-being (like a self-care app) can offer quick, accessible support right at your fingertips.
For nurses working the night shift or regularly changing schedules, many self-care apps focus on guided meditations to help you unwind and fall asleep. Sleeping to accommodate a shift schedule is difficult to master, as your body is fighting against your natural circadian rhythm. Using resources to develop a routine that works for your unique schedule is key. Many night nurses also swear by blackout window shades and sleeping eye masks to block out light.
- Coworker support
Night shift schedules can create a sense of isolation from family and friends. Studies have shown that nurses working the night shift get less sleep than day shift nurses, which can lead to higher levels of stress, less satisfaction at work, and reduced motivation and productivity. In some healthcare settings, night shifts are quieter and offer fewer opportunities for socialization or connection with colleagues.
A recent 85-year-old Harvard study found that the most unhappy employees were those whose jobs don’t offer opportunities to build meaningful relationships with coworkers and require little human interaction. While nurses can’t control who’s on their shift, connecting with others for support and returning that support when you’re able, can improve your unit’s culture and help you feel less isolated.
- Mindful nutrition
Because night-shift schedules increase the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, mindful nutrition is key to limiting the negative effects of long-term shift work for night nurses and those who alternate between day and night schedules.
Recent data showed that emergency healthcare workers working the night shift have a lower amount and quality of nutrient intake. The study noted that the caregivers working the night shift seemed to eat less healthily and that one fifth of participants went more than eight consecutive hours without drinking. While the study noted that preventative policies should be put in place to accommodate night shift healthcare workers’ schedules, what these recommendations are has yet to be determined.
One approach follows limiting nutritional intake to daylight hours. A study funded by the NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), and National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) found that eating at night can inhibit the body’s ability to process glucose.
As the first study to show the health benefits of exclusive daytime eating during night shift work, the reasoning behind the approach is based on “circadian misalignment” (the mistiming between the central circadian clock in the brain and other cycles, such as light and dark, fasting and eating, and sleeping and waking).
Leveraging available resources for mindful nutrition such as meal planning services, meal prep ideas, or even using a trial-and-error approach to what works best for you and your body can be helpful to make sure you feel your best working throughout the night. Being especially mindful of your caffeine intake, sweets, and other junk foods are key as your night shift hours wind down and you prepare for rest.
Fitting nurse wellness resources into routine with changing schedules
While night shifts in nursing can be challenging, they can also be rewarding — allowing nurses to spend more time with family during the week and holidays. But as 12-hour shifts are already demanding, adapting to night shifts or a combination of both will take extra effort to ensure proper sleep, nutrition, and wellness.
Knowing which available resources are most helpful and where to find them can help you feel your best to care for your patients and keep your mental and physical health a priority.
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